Saturday, March 25, 2017

Friday's GOP Defeat and Empty Victory


For America and its people, it was the best news of the calendar year: the  arrogantly slapped together, cynically altered and altogether horrendous Republican replacement for Obamacare died a hidden but ignominious death, because it couldn't get enough Republicans in the House (where they have a 44 seat advantage) to pass it by majority vote.

Then surprisingly, the White House regime and the R leadership announced that it would not be revised or revived.  The threats to healthcare are over for the foreseeable future.  It's too bad that sensible improvements won't be made in the current system, but that is far outweighed by the virtues and advantages that will remain, and that would have been ended or crippled, with vast consequences to a lot of people and eventually the American economy.

Obamacare, celebrating the 7th anniversary of its passage, remains the law of the land, with its highest number of insured and its highest poll numbers as well.

While most of the attention for the past several days was focused on the rabid right conservatives in the House opposed to the bill for not destroying enough, several accounts on Friday agree that the nails in the coffin--not just for this go-round but the near future--were hammered by "moderate" Rs and Rs from blue states, all fearful of these consequences to their constituents, especially the changes demanded by the rabid right and granted by the desperate House leadership and White House.  For example, the Atlantic:

And as opposition mounted, Republicans representing swing districts and Democratic states began to pull their support, worried about cuts to Medicaid, a broader projected loss of insurance coverage, and a potential backlash from voters in the midterm elections next year. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that the proposal would increase the number of uninsured Americans by 24 million people over a decade, and a Quinnipiac University poll showed that just 17 percent of potential voters supported the plan, with 56 percent opposed."

It was widely reported as a serious defeat for the Rs and specifically for the apprentice dictator in the White House.  With the media's track record, that might be taken with a grain of salt, but there are some interesting numbers, for whatever they are worth.  The LA Times added:

"A Quinnipiac University poll published this week said that 56% of voters disapproved of how Trump was handling his job; only 37% supported him. Other polls have shown similar numbers. Worse for the president, some of the voter groups that have most strongly backed him have begun pulling away, the poll indicated.

“We’ve been polling for 24 years and have never seen anything like this,” said Timothy Malloy, the assistant director of the poll. “Far and away, the worst numbers ever seen in a president."”

The LA Times story echoed an observation I read earlier in the week, that part of the failure of Homemade Hitler to seal the deal with House Rs was his inability to defend what was actually in the bill--even to them.  That could definitely recur.

Repealing Obamacare was the national Rs main campaign promise; another was building the Keystone XL pipeline, which would add about fifty permanent US jobs while churning up a lot of carbon--perhaps enough to doom civilization--and lacerating habitat for threatened animal species down North America from the Alberta wastelands.  


The current regime announced Friday that it was approving this project, an apparent victory.  But several articles (in the Forbes business magazine, an oped in the Baltimore Sun newspaper as well as EcoWatch) said there were several reasons that the pipeline would not be built immediately and probably not at all.

The reasons range from litigation, state and local permits still needed, and the distinct possibility that the Canadian government might well not give its permission, in order to meet its Paris Agreement commitments on carbon waste.

 But the most compelling reason given may be that the expense of building the pipeline versus the much weaker market for coal sands oil as well as the overall steep drop in oil prices since it was first proposed, will mean that the company itself will drop out, because the damn thing won't make anybody any money.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Editor


What a hard week: the death of three irreplaceable voices and icons of the age, all in their late 80s.  And joined by a fourth: Robert Silver, who died on March 20 at age 88.

Silver was the surviving founding editor of the New York Review of Books, itself an irreplaceable element in global intellectual life as well as in domestic politics since it began in the 1960s, which is also when I started reading it.  I can add little to all the praise by those who knew him and were edited by him, except that I was and remain envious of the experience and the relationship.

He did email me once out of the blue--or had his assistant email me, since he didn't do it himself. He wrote about piece I did on NYRB, specifically on the articles in the then most recent issue. So my one and only communication from Robert Silver was this: "I was touched by what you said about the paper. During 46 years, I’ve never read a piece in which a writer said what was actually in an issue." 

I notice now that in several of the remembrances, writers note that Silvers always referred to the NYRB as "the paper." But at the time, I was astonished that no one had ever written about a specific issue before, as well as that he would write me about it.  Or even that he saw it--this was not even an article in the San Francisco Chronicle or other publication, but on Daily Kos (and here at the Daily of course.)  I assume the same assistants who handled his email found the online piece, and printed it out for him.

There are remembrances online at the NYRB site, and several others at the New Yorker site: here, here and here.  Read just a few and you'll see why Bob Silver was the paradigm of Editor.

I can only echo one of those quoted, famed editor and NYRB writer Robert Gottlieb: “The loss to all his writers is profound, and the loss to our poor imperiled world, incalculable.”

May he rest in peace.  The good he did lives on, and let's hope the example he set does, too.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

March for Survival

Today the NY Times cataloged the ways in which the current White House regime is planning to stop US efforts to address the climate crisis.  It is more than sobering.

It also contradicts what US citizens tell pollsters they want done, although the poll cited also shows a lack of urgency.  People don't believe it will affect them.  It will, but not as much as it will affect people now alive but too young to be asked, and their immediate and distant descendants.

There are a number of ways to think about this.  First, the die was cast on election night, and at minimum the time lost in more aggressive actions to confront the climate crisis will make the future worse.  Perhaps that time can be made up, but perhaps not.  Recent information on the oceans and coral reefs suggest that any lost time could be fatal, and that it might be game over anyway.

Plans are underway for big Earth Day demonstrations, under the banner of the March for Science.  The climate movement and its leaders (and its mavericks) have done some great things in focusing the topic and bringing it to public attention.  But they've also blown the nomenclature and generally failed to find a way to make the issue urgent.

Everybody understands the basic problems--the climate crisis is (in a variety of complicated ways) almost invisible to most people, and it is (or has been publicized as) a problem affecting the future, not so much the present.  So other stuff gets priority and attention.

There's also growing concern that an onrushing mass extinction event is even more urgent, and it involves a different set of solutions, though the two crises share a lot in cause and effect.

But all that considered, and for all the good things that have been done with a relatively low key approach, or even by not mentioning the climate crisis, this isn't likely to work.  The climate crisis was not an urgent issue in 2016--as it has never been in a presidential election--and so here we are.

I see the p.r. value and the constituency for a March for Science.  It is basic in a way, and certainly plays to the constituency that is already convinced.  Marches pretty much are about how big the choir is that you are preaching to.

Science is a set of tools for addressing the climate crisis.  Science is necessary, and symbolically, it's another way of drawing your line in the sand.  But it is not the main objective.  The main objective is survival.

Until there is an Earth Day March for Survival, we won't be really confronting the urgency of these tasks.

Truth and Consequences

On Monday FBI Director James Comey became the latest official to deny there is any truth to the Homemade Hitler's wiretapping accusation.   That the Dictator Apprentice is a liar is not exactly news.  But now it's official.  One consequence is succinctly summarized by David Leonhardt in the New York Times:

"When Donald Trump says something happened, it should not change anyone’s estimation of whether the event actually happened. Maybe it did, maybe it didn’t. His claim doesn’t change the odds."

It's also now well accepted that, apart from pathology, the Big Lies as well as all the little lies are part of the authoritarian playbook, which is why they are never withdrawn even when contradicted.  As Paul Krugman wrote: "This administration operates under the doctrine of Trumpal infallibility: Nothing the president says is wrong, whether it’s his false claim that he won the popular vote or his assertion that the historically low murder rate is at a record high. No error is ever admitted. And there is never anything to apologize for."

Krugman sees this also as part of a trend for politicians and others: right wing economists, for instance, who continually predicted dire consequences to everything President Obama did, and never admitted that these disasters did not come to pass.

There's a political psychology to this, which is that the important thing is to keep repeating the lie, and alot of people are going to believe it's true--or why else would people keep repeating it?  Even the people who repeat it in order to say it is a lie, add to the cumulative effect.

Nevertheless, there are two things going on here.  First, the current Republican regime is fumbling and floundering.  Courts have twice blocked its xenophobic travel bans, though Homemade Hitler's immigration and travel police are creating chaos for no real reason.  The FBI is actively investigating unlawful ties to Russia, and so on.  If the heathcare bill that the Rs are rushing to vote on doesn't even get out of the House, that's a thundering defeat.

Second, White House credibility is being shredded.

What will be the result?  The weaker this regime gets, the more likely it will attempt large scale military action, either war against another country or as response to a terrorist incident.

But what happens if nobody believes them?  Then we're in uncharted territory.  

Monday, March 20, 2017

Breslin

Jimmy Breslin, author and most of all, New York City reporter and columnist, died on Sunday at the age of 89.  He was the Charles Dickens of New Journalism in the 70s, a Damon Runyon who caught the color but throughout his career also championed the downtrodden in substantive ways.

He was a columnist for the New York Daily News when I was writing a half-dozen articles or so for the paper's Sunday magazine.  I worked out of the Daily News offices (and so did Clark Kent, at least when he was Christopher Reeve.) I passed Breslin in the halls and we exchanged greetings.  One of those semi-vicarious moments of feeling like journalists together.

We weren't very much alike as people, journalists, writers, but still... I just re-read one of my articles from those mid 1980s issues, on the New York Lotto game, and it had the kind of street description and interviews, plus the pov and a few low-key flourishes, for which Breslin set the standard.  He was a big personality in New York--he used to be on TV a lot--but he was rightly proudest of being a writer.

Here's a short piece on him from the New Yorker this week; Jonathan Alter's tribute in the same pub;  He was--as I was to a lesser extent--a member of an endangered species that in some senses is already extinct.  Which is not to dispute that he was one of a kind. Alter ends his piece:

There are still columnists and reporters doing great work (especially on Trump since the Inauguration), though not as many are getting out of the office and “climbing the tenement stairs,” as Breslin described the essence of his craft. But, toward the end of his life, I found him surprisingly sanguine about the chances of these human stories surviving the demise of tabloids and being told online. Were he writing now, he would be seeking out stories on the personal consequences of Trump’s health-care and budget plans. And he would tell those stories with a little more fun and a lot more rage.

 May he rest in peace.  His books live on, and his memory.

Alive

"There's an African proverb: 'When death finds you, may it find you alive.'  Alive means living your own damn life, not the life that your parents wanted, or the life some cultural group or political party wanted, but the life that your own soul wants to live."

Michael Meade
from an interview in The Sun Magazine, quoted in the 40th anniversary issue, 2014.

Generations Chuck



Chuck Berry begat the Beatles and Stones, and so in the 70s Chuck Berry and John Lennon played together, a not terribly inspiring performance on daytime TV, but still.  Then in the 80s, Berry played some gigs with Stones guitarist Keith Richards (and got into some famous onstage arguments.)  But this collaboration begat a third generation, as John's son Julian Lennon sang the hell out of Johnny B. Goode, sounding like his overawed and nervous father should have in the 70s, with Richards blazing on guitar.  Also check out the audience--the older man somewhat self-consciously responding, followed by the young boy shaking his head in uninhibited joy.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Chuck Berry and School Day Memories


I never liked Elvis Presley.  When he emerged in 1956, I thought he was ridiculous.  At the age of 11 I was possibly not yet hormonalized enough, but in fact I never liked him even after that.  (He did have a good voice, however; something he's not often given credit for.)

There were tunes that intrigued me even earlier, by Fats Domino for instance, that forecast the big change in popular music.  But in 1957 I was ready for rock and roll.  Sixth grade was accompanied by Buddy Holly, the Everly Brothers, Dion and the Belmonts, the Elegants and other do-wop groups.  The first 45 I bought was a guitar instrumental called "Raunchy" by Ernie Freeman in 1957.

In March 1957, exactly 60 years ago, "School Day" by Chuck Berry was released. It wasn't his first hit, but it was the first I remember clearly.  I probably saw him lip synch it on American Bandstand, the Dick Clark program from Philadelphia on TV every school day afternoon.  Or maybe I saw him on the local version on Saturdays, hosted by Pittsburgh DJ Clark Race.  Or probably both.

The tune eventually led off an EP --an Extended Play 45 rpm record--of six songs featured on American Bandstand, and so it was the first Chuck Berry song I owned, and listened to over and over.

The song mixed familiar elements of my world with a kind of (for me) teenage dream world.  It's about a school day, starting off: Up in the mornin' and out to school/ The teacher is teachin' the Golden Rule...

Although my teachers were teaching more rules than that at the Cathedral School. My Catholic parish was still catching up to our Baby Boom numbers, and so my class from St. Paul's was moved for 6th and 7th grade up to the much larger Cathedral School on Main Street, across from Greensburg High School.  It was my first experience with lots of kids (by 7th grade, some of our classes had 60 students, and were complete chaos) and with big school features like a cafeteria.

And Chuck Berry even sang about that: Ring, ring goes the bell/The cook in the lunch room's ready to sell/You're lucky if you can find a seat/You're fortunate if you have time to eat...

The song was basically about school as a pressure cooker (Back in the classroom, open your books/Keep up, the teacher don't know how mean she looks)

Then suddenly there's release: Soon as three o'clock rolls around//You finally lay your burden down/Close up your books, get out of your seat//Down the halls and into the street

And that's where any similarity to my experience ended, and the teenage fantasy world began: Up to the corner and 'round the bend/ Right to the juke joint, you go in.. 

There were no juke joints, or malt shops, or any of the teenage fantasy places we saw on Ozzie and Harriet and other TV shows.  Sure, there were places with juke boxes.  But there was never any place around where kids would dance in the afternoon: The best we could do is go home and watch other kids dance on American Bandstand. All day long you been wantin' to dance,/Feeling the music from head to toe/ Round and round and round we go...

Not that any of us could dance, or could overcome the self-consciousness of being shorter than the girls (who somehow during the summer between 6th and 7th grades, all grew breasts), and with our voices changing and pimples sprouting.  So losing inhibitions and joyously dancing at the juke joint was as much a fantasy world as the world of romance.

Still, I could feel the music, feel that it was particularly mine, and so rejoin Chuck Berry's ecstatic words to end the song: Hail, hail rock and roll/ /Deliver me from the days of old/Long live rock and roll /The beat of the drums, loud and bold/ Rock, rock, rock and roll/The feelin' is there, body and soul.

That was Chuck Berry's subject: the music itself.  From Roll Over, Beethoven to Johnny B. Goode and Rock & Roll Music.


  I think it was Chuck Berry who killed Your Hit Parade, the TV show in which a stable of singers performed that week's top hits.  Dorothy Collins, Snooky Lanson and the others might get through songs about true love and broken hearts, and the occasional novelty song, but there was no way they could dramatize Chuck Berry's teenage anthems to the life of rock & roll.

Chuck Berry was a musical innovator in what he put together: rhythm and blues and country music principally, but he also knew how to construct a pop song.  He said the guitar riff opening to "Johnny B. Goode" was inspired by the Glenn Miller Orchestra opening to "In The Mood."  There were lots of black artists whose songs were hits mostly when recorded by whites.  But Chuck Berry's songs couldn't be imitated.  Only a decade later were there new versions by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, among others.

He had seemingly several careers, popping up with a new hit or playing on TV with John Lennon, never looking or acting much older.  I saw him live at an oldies show in the 70s, when he had his last and biggest hit, "My Ding-a-Ling," not among his best.

Chuck Berry had a strange life, suggested by just one fact: three days after he performed at the White House for President Jimmy Carter, he was locked in a federal pen for tax evasion.  But he had a long life, too.  He died on Saturday at the age of 90.  May he rest in peace.  His work lives on.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Legacy

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Derek Walcott
January 30, 1930-March 17, 2017
R.I.P.

Ryan's War-- on Seniors

The Paul Ryan healthcare proposal--fully embraced by Homemade Hitler--is hurtling through Congress, hoping that it's moving too fast for anyone to read it first.

Too late.

Senator Bob Casey released a 50 page report detailing how the plan raises premiums and lowers coverage as citizens age, with seniors (not quite 65) of the lowest income paying the highest percentage of their income.

Paul Krugman: "Affluent young people might end up saving some money as a result of these changes. But the effect on those who are older and less affluent would be devastating. AARP has done the math: a 55-year-old making $25,000 a year would end up paying $3,600 a year more for coverage; that rises to $8,400 for a 64-year-old making $15,000 a year."

Low income seniors--even those on Medicare, which covers only part of healthcare costs--depend on programs through Medicaid.  The Ryan plan would end much of this support by 2020.

But news is Republicans have gotten concessions from Ryan and the White House: they have agreed to wound Medicaid even more.

This is the Cruelty State's proudest boast--thanks for your service, now that you're too old we'll kill you, painfully.

Jackboots of The Cruelty State

Besides yet another tragic object lesson in the hard truth that it is so much easier to destroy than to create, the Cruelty State budget (dubbed a "campaign press release masquerading as a government document,” due to its lack of being an actual, you know, budget, with income and outflow and covering the whole government) is also the perfect budget if your goal is to create a military dictatorship.

Slash support for everything from the EPA and NASA earth science to cancer research, regional and community programs and public broadcasting, with no significant money for infrastructure--along with the proposed destruction of healthcare support given by government in every other advanced nation on the planet.  Then-- besides giveaways to the wealthy and the wealthiest businesses-- increase spending on military hardware.

And while you are at it, keep making noises about going to war with North Korea.

This is how it works in the Third World military dictatorships: when the military is the privileged institution, where poor people can get status and get fed only in the military. Also create the sense of being besieged in a hostile world, and identify at least one enemy for patriotic citizens to get excited about fighting.

Even within the military budget, the hardware gets the bucks and programs for peacekeeping and responding to global emergencies gets cut.  It's all about the jackboots.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Truth

Whether they fully articulate it or not, an element that strikes terror in many hearts and minds regarding Homegrown Hitler's regime is the nightmare reversal of truth and lies.  The regime lie and because they say it, it is the truth.  There is no argument based on evidence of any kind that can contradict it, and increasingly, that support it.  And therefore, there is no recourse.  There is no democratic process, or any kind of decision-making based on verifiable evidence.

But making decisions based on facts as well as priorities, and even knowingly ignoring where the evidence leads in order to strike a compromise that brings parties together to support a common program, have had and still have an important institutional place, everywhere from city councils to courts and even occasionally in the US Congress.

Some decisions are made that way by law, such as applying rules regulating carbon in cars and power plants, as this article explains: because even a climate crisis-denying ignoramus bought and paid for by fossil fuel corporations as EPA director will have to prove a case.

But at least a couple of the regime's efforts to remake reality may be getting some resistance in Congress, even from usually fact-free Republicans.   This Washington Post article is persuasive that a couple of R leaders in the House and Senate aren't meekly cooperating with the regime's strategy of making wild accusations and then pushing them over to Congress to investigate.  They are committee chairs asking for evidence for the charge of wire tapping against President Obama, and saying pretty plainly that they don't believe the White House or the Justice Department has any.

One of these, a conservative and once (and probably future) regime apologist, Rep. Devin Nunes told to a reporter in 2015 that his biggest concern was the "spread of false information on the right:"

I used to spend ninety per cent of my constituent-response time on people who call, e-mail, or send a letter, such as, ‘I really like this bill, H.R. 123,’ and they really believe in it because they heard about it through one of the groups that they belong to, but their view was based on actual legislation,” Nunes said. “Ten per cent were about ‘Chemtrails from airplanes are poisoning me’ to every other conspiracy theory that’s out there. And that has essentially flipped on its head.” The overwhelming majority of his constituent mail is now about the far-out ideas, and only a small portion is “based on something that is mostly true.” He added, “It’s dramatically changed politics and politicians, and what they’re doing."

From reality TV to Facebook as the prime dispenser of "news," it is the newest and most frightening of the tendencies that encourages--even deifies--ignorance.

There are somewhat more familiar components to the Dark Age Now though they are amped to brand new heights.  Jeffrey Frank recalls Homegrown Hitler's disdain for Camp David, as close to a hallowed setting as we get in America, rich with history as well as practicality, and imbued with the continuity of the American presidency.   "Seen in that light, Trump’s contemptuous remark about Camp David became another early warning that, even after taking the oath of office, there would be no end to his vulgarity and mendacity."

Frank later comments:"hard to watch what’s happening to the office and the mission of the Presidency, aided and abetted by men and women who will not be forgiven in the history books that Trump will never read."

The Washington Post has taken to adding a motto under its name on every website page: "Democracy dies in darkness."  It is the darkness of ignorance, of deliberate ignorance.  That ignorance is created not only by the dearth of information, but of shared belief in the fundamental tests of what's true and what is not.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Gist for the Mill

On the dictator apprentice's leaked tax return:

"Almost as noteworthy was the fact that most of the tax Trump paid was captured by the Alternative Minimum Tax, which is a backup tax designed to insure that people with a lot of deductions don’t entirely escape taxes. Because Trump took a write-down of more than a hundred million dollars in 2005, his initial tax liability was just $5.3 million. If not for the Alternative Minimum Tax, which he and other Republicans want to get rid of, his effective tax rate would have been about 3.5 per cent. Because he was liable to the A.M.T., he was forced to pay an additional thirty-one or so million dollars."


The gist of the court decision stopping Homegrown Hitler's latest travel ban:

 In his ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson quoted a Fox News appearance from senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, who argued that “fundamentally, you’re still going to have the same basic policy outcome for the country” even after the rewrite. The judge said the new executive order was similar in intent to the first one — and that it targeted Muslims.

“These plainly-worded statements, made in the months leading up to and contemporaneous with the signing of the Executive Order, and, in many cases, made by the Executive himself, betray the Executive Order’s stated secular purpose,” the ruling said.

On the regime's announced legislative agenda--which is so far a total illusion:

As a candidate for president, Trump promised that he would work with Congress to pass legislation that would dramatically cut taxes, spur $1 trillion in infrastructure investments, significantly expand school choice and make it easier to afford child care. And he promised he would get started on all that — and six other pieces of legislation — in his first 100 days, according to a “Contract with the American Voter” released shortly before Election Day.

Now past the 50-day mark, only one of those bills — the House GOP health-care plan — has been introduced. And its path has grown more treacherous by the day, with mounting concerns about the millions of Americans projected to lose coverage, including many who supported Trump in last year’s election...

Other promised 100-day bills included a sweeping crackdown on immigration, including a southern border wall paid for by Mexico; a new system of tariffs to discourage companies from relocating abroad; and reforms aimed at reducing “the corrupting influence of special interests on our politics.” No such measures have been introduced."

Monday, March 13, 2017

Persistence


The first sunny days of spring (after Daylight Savings Time anyway) revealed blooming jonquils (above), grape hyacinth and tulips in the yard, as well as the calla lilies that persisted through the winter...

Mercy


"Instead of humanity rationally governing the world and itself, we are at the mercy of monsters that we have created."

Dale Jamieson
Reason in a Dark Time

Sunday, March 12, 2017

What "Universal Access" Means

Does the Republican plan for healthcare guarantee universal coverage?  Nope--something better: Universal Access!

Universal Access means everybody can get health insurance!  After all, it's the American way.

Americans have Universal Access to lots more than healthcare, too!  For instance, Americans have universal access to flights in private jets whenever they want one---provided they pay for the private jet.  But other than that, there are no restrictions.  This is America!  (Well, depending on other factors, you might not actually be allowed to fly in it--but you could still own it.)

Universal Access to health insurance also means that you can buy a really cheap policy, way cheaper than under Obamacare.  Of course it won't cover anything much, but it will be way cheap!

But if you want health insurance that covers lots of stuff, even everything, you have Universal Access to those plans, too!  Provided you can pay the very steep prices, which get steeper the older you are.

Listen, you can even have Universal Access to the Universe if you want, if you can pay, if you can wait for faster than light spaceships.  After all, facts are just limitations, and they don't matter anymore.  Universal Access is what they used to call bullshit, when that was still a word and not White House policy.

So don't worry that the Republican plan won't cover everybody, or even everyone now covered under the suddenly popular Obamacare. (CBO Update: 24 million people fewer than Obamacare, which is even fewer insured people than before Obamacare.)  Universal Access is what will make America great again.

(Well, yes, anybody can get health insurance now under Obamacare, but that isn't Universal Access.  Because...well, because they don't call it that.  What is this anyway--fake news?)

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Diversion of the Day

Meanwhile in New York City, Barack and Michelle Obama brunched with Bono and his daughter at the Upland restaurant, where they were reportedly served--among other dishes--this scrumptious looking cacio e pepe  (recipe is here if you're interested.)

When they left, the President and First Lady got a standing ovation from other diners and cheers from the folks outside.

On Thursday the Obamas lunched at the Italian restaurant Carbone in NYC with daughter Malia.

Looking good and eating Italian food.  Style and good taste!

Early Impact


A woman who is afraid the Republican healthcare plan will mean her death, literally. A young man who says his father and brother were deported, and promptly murdered.  Another woman who is plagued by nightmares about the regime in the White House.  These aren't news stories.  They are people nearby.  There are many such stories.

As the assault continues, many feel like this woman and her father in the 1998 film Deep Impact, standing on a beach waiting to be swept away by a gigantic tidal wave.

The feeling is real and widespread, even if particular catastrophes may not be so imminent.  The Republican healthcare bill, opposed by major medical and medical insurance organizations as well as most of the nation's governors, is unlikely to become law, despite the brazenly irresponsible action of GOP House committees to speed through approval without even waiting for the plan to be costed out, let alone carefully analyzed and debated.  And environmental catastrophe due to EPA absence or negligence can come at any time, but the worst consequences are pushed off to the future, when it will be too late to stop them.

But it is the tidal wave of horrors every day that is so overwhelming, and the feeling that while certain groups and individuals are in imminent danger, a larger totalitarian regime is building.

If anyone thought previous posts here were alarmist, they will find even deeper and more elaborated alarm in Mark Danner's lead piece in the latest New York Review of Books issue.  He notes something that others intuit, if only in their waking or sleeping nightmares:

"Ours is famously said to be a government of laws, not of men, and yet we find in the Age of Trump that the laws depend on men and women willing to step forward and press them and that such are not to be found in the dominant party in Congress."

Ignoring Homegrown Hitler's lawlessness and recklessness now only emboldens him.  Danner suggests in slightly more detail what I have in brief-- that any real or imagined terrorist attack or aggression by, say, North Korea (though of course not Russia) could well become the pretext for a truly totalitarian state, using all the new technologies of surveillance and control.

At the moment he does not have the loyalty of the military, intelligence agencies or most of the federal police--though that could change in a flash of media imagery and bombast.  But as I suspected he apparently does have the immigration police, so failing a violent excuse, he will exercise his power there.  Besides, it's early yet.

Monday, March 06, 2017

Dictator Apprentice: The Next Step

He operates as an authoritarian both in substance and attitude (it's worth repeating the point made by a German newspaper, that Trump, like all dictators "believe that the words that come from their mouths as powerful leaders are the truth and that the media, when it strays from them, is telling lies. That's autocratic thinking — and it is how you sustain a dictatorship.")

However, there is also a civil war going on in Washington, most recently involving the regime's relationship to Russia and now the baseless charge of wiretapping, which has opened a rift between the White House and the FBI.

The problem for the Apprentice Dictator is that he needs political support but especially the support of the military and federal police.  He needs an unwaveringly loyal Gestapo.

It's clear from the absurd statements of the House committee chair who refuses to investigate the Russian connection because he sees no reason to, that the Apprentice Dictator has at least some meaningful political support for maintaining power regardless of anything he says or does.

And it's unfortunately clear also that elements of the federal police--notably members of the Immigration police force and Homeland Security or whoever it is that has been persecuting foreign nationals at airport security--are willing and able to enforce his xenophobic policies.

The military is another question.  It's likely that recent appointees from the military to major national security posts have some support within the US military, but also a lot of doubters.  But there are more direct ways to win over the military: give them a war, and give them money.

Even giving them a war might not work, but the regime is proposing to give them a lot more money.  In its proposed budget, everybody else gets starved but the military gets a big raise.  And some kind of war is coming.

Money corrupts, and it has a long history of corrupting the military.  Hasn't anybody else noticed that this is a formula for the Apprentice Dictator to become a full-fledged Dictator?

Presiding Over the Cruelty State

Trump’s revised travel ban is still cruel and still unconstitutional reads the headline to Ilya Somin's analysis in the Washington Post.  Cruelty characterizes cases of immigration enforcement and overreach increasingly making the news, including a father arrested immediately after dropping his children off at school, as they watched.

Xenophobic policy inspires acts of violence against people of specific ethnic groups, including two incidents in the state of Washington.  Cruelty is the official policy and not unexpected result of the regime rapidly presiding over the Cruelty State.

Late Monday the Republican plan to destroy Obamacare was released, proposing to end support for healthcare for the poor.  "Let them die" is now official Republican party policy.

Part of the cruelty regime is the so-called "deconstruction" of the "administrative state."  First of all, it's a trendy misuse of the word "deconstruct," which has three standard definitions before it gets to the meaning here, which is "destruction."

There is no analysis involved--just destruction.  There are two chief tools to this destruction: withdrawing (i.e. destroying) funding and destroying regulations.  Both are most obvious in the area of environment, where funds are taken away from crucial programs and staff at EPA and NASA, for example.  But it's happening elsewhere.

As is the sweeping away of regulations that safeguard health and safety.  For example, as flagged by the New York Times: Giants in telecommunications, like Verizon and AT&T, will not have to take “reasonable measures” to ensure that their customers’ Social Security numbers, web browsing history and other personal information are not stolen or accidentally released.

Other of the more than 90 regulations forestalled by the new regime already were designed to protect against mentally ill persons getting guns as well as letting banks get away with stealing.

When consumers are directly affected, controversy and law suits are likely to follow.  But in the meantime, people will suffer.  And voiding regulations meant to protect the health of children as well as the natural environment that supports all life means that people well into the future will suffer.  This is the Cruelty State, and it's just getting started.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Rebuke

If the strategy behind Homegrown Hitler's charges against President Obama was to deflect attention from his regime's potentially illegal conspiracy with Russia and then lying about it, it's not going well.

On the accusations, the New York Times:

"The F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, asked the Justice Department this weekend to publicly reject President Trump’s assertion that President Barack Obama ordered the tapping of Mr. Trump’s phones, senior American officials said on Sunday. Mr. Comey has argued that the highly charged claim is false and must be corrected, they said, but the department has not released any such statement.

Mr. Comey’s request is a remarkable rebuke of a sitting president, putting the nation’s top law enforcement official in the position of questioning Mr. Trump’s truthfulness. The confrontation between the two is the most serious consequence of Mr. Trump’s weekend Twitter outburst, and it underscores the dangers of what the president and his aides have unleashed by accusing the former president of a conspiracy to undermine Mr. Trump’s young administration."

The Times notes however that weasly Comey could himself issue such a statement on behalf of the FBI, which would have carried out wiretaps and so is itself being accused.

On the blowback, CNN:

"The mystery over Donald Trump and Russia is taking a corrosive hold on his presidency, sowing accusations and hysteria that threaten to overwhelm his White House and drain his personal credibility.

Washington has become a hall of mirrors, where it's impossible to distinguish between rumor and fact as conspiracy theories and partisan paroxysms rage -- all arising from an alleged Russian spy plot to sway last year's election that is now clouding the new administration.

The White House is finding it impossible to put to rest claims it has improper ties to Russia. Often, President Trump himself reignites the drama — apparently to his detriment — as with his sensational claim Saturday that his predecessor Barack Obama tapped his phones."

Absent some of the hyperbole, other outlets like the Washington Post have made the same point.

Opined E.J. Dionne. "Trump has a problem either way. If he was not wiretapped, he invented a spectacularly false charge. And if a court ordered some sort of surveillance of him, on what grounds did it do so?  Every time the issue of the relationship between Trump’s apparatus and Moscow comes up, he is moved to unleash unhinged counterattacks. This only underscores how urgent it is to get to the bottom of this story quickly."

"Even by the surreal standards set during his early weeks in office,... Trump's tweets over the weekend marked a potentially dangerous turn in the course of American democracy," wrote Ishaan Tharoor in the Washington Post.  He quotes a German newspaper that likened Trump to the dictator of Turkey. ""They believe that the words that come from their mouths as powerful leaders are the truth and that the media, when it strays from them, is telling lies. That's autocratic thinking — and it is how you sustain a dictatorship."

In a story about Kellyanne Conway challenging Comey to go public with what he knows about wiretaps, Fox News quotes Nancy Pelosi about the initial Trumped up charge: 'It's called a wrap-up smear. You make up something. Then you have the press write about it. And then you say, everybody is writing about this charge. It's a tool of an authoritarian," Pelosi said.

Update: WAPost Daily 202 on Monday suggests Trump did sort of get away with it by getting the media off Sessions' lies, but ultimately he may well pay a price.

NBC News suggests President Obama may have grounds to sue for libel.

Meanwhile, a relaxed and informally dressed President Obama visited the National Gallery of Art in Washington with his wife Michelle.  Afterwards a crowd outside cheered him.

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Sunway


I took these photos of the linden tree on the last sunny day, earlier in the week.  It's windy, cold and wet today.  So consider this an attempt at sympathetic magic, to bring back the sun.  (This format slices off some of the right side of the photos, so click on them to get the full picture.)

Civilization Warp

The Los Angeles Times began its story with the apprentice dictator in the White House: "agitated by mounting pressure for an independent investigation into his ties to Russia, unleashed a startling and unsupported attack on his predecessor Saturday, accusing Barack Obama of wiretapping his phones during the 2016 election.

Trump’s tweet storm, which was backed by no evidence, was bizarre even for a White House with a history of broadsides against political opponents. Throughout the day, administration officials refused to offer any explanation for the president’s missive or any evidence to back it up."

Every legitimate news story had essentially the same headline as the Washington Post:  Trump, citing no evidence, accuses Obama of Nixon/Watergate plot to wiretap Trump Tower. 

This comes, by the way, days after Homegrown Hitler accused President Obama of organizing all the protests against his regime.  The stories however have a function for the regime, in shaking out all known information about possible Justice Department and FBI activity, and further publicizing the alt.right story that was likely the source of the accusation.  These stories also include a categorical denial from President Obama's spokesperson.

As David Remnick and Evan Osnos note in the New Yorker, one of Trump's "most consistent rhetorical maneuvers is a fairly basic but often highly effective one—the diversionary reverse accusation...He fogs the language and clouds the issue."

So now fewer voices are talking about Jeff Sessions and the Russian connections, because they're repeating this baseless charge, even as they say it is baseless.

The Post also quotes:

Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, issued a statement chastising Trump for leveling a "spectacularly reckless allegation" against Obama without evidence.

Referencing Trump's description of Obama as a "bad (or sick) guy," Schiff said, "If there is something bad or sick going on, it is the willingness of the nation's chief executive to make the most outlandish and destructive claims without providing a scintilla of evidence to support them. "

The New York Times added:

Ben Rhodes, a former top national security aide to Mr. Obama, said in a Twitter message directed at Mr. Trump on Saturday that “no president can order a wiretap” and added, “Those restrictions were put in place to protect citizens from people like you.”

The New York Times also quotes:

"Even some Republican lawmakers questioned Mr. Trump’s accusations. Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska issued a statement demanding that the president reveal everything he knows about any wiretaps or warrants.

“The president today made some very serious allegations, and the informed citizens that a republic requires deserve more information,” Mr. Sasse said, adding that “we are in the midst of a civilization-warping crisis of public trust.”

The Atlantic story details procedures and safeguards concerning wiretaps.

If any further evidence were necessary that this country has a seriously unhinged chief executive in the White House, this was it.

Meanwhile, President Obama was in New York recently, attending a new production of Arthur Miller's play The Price, with his daughter Malia.  At every stop he made during the day, cheering crowds gathered.

Friday, March 03, 2017

Wet


As we wait for the next scheduled storm to roll in--momentarily, according to forecasts--let us reflect on this wet winter.  Hereabouts on the North Coast, where winters are traditionally wet, the amount of rain we got in February was more than twice that of  "normal,"  according to National Weather Service stats.

That brings the rainfall since October to nearly twice the normal.  Just since January 1 we've had 22 inches.  Since October, over 47.  We had our El Nino above-normal rains last January and February, but this year we topped those.

So: wet.  Not the big storms we had back at the turn of the century, but the slow accretion of wet, a lot of it seemingly falling at night.  The skies are maybe not so different from the normal of say ten years ago, but in recent years we've gotten used to more sunshine.  So, even despite what it may portend, it is missed, and eagerly anticipated.

Tonight's storm is coming in from the north, but the last big round was from the south, what used to be called the Pineapple Express, but now has the more impressive title of the Atmospheric River.

So in honor of this wet winter, which I hope is mostly over, here's a reprise of my Atmospheric River song. If you care to sing along, it's to the tune of "Up A Lazy River" which is by Hoagy Carmichael and Sidney Arodin. So follow the bouncing ball...

Atmospheric River by the old jet stream
Atmospheric river of the rain supreme
Linger in the shade of your umbrella tree
Soak in all your sorrows, float out to sea...

Atmospheric river up above will loom
Atmospheric river in the noon day gloom
Gray skies are all set
Everyone gets wet
Atmospheric river how drowned we all will be
Atmospheric river, you’ll see!

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Ethical Sense

“Although humans inherit a biological basis that permits them to feel anger, jealousy, selfishness and envy, to be rude, aggressive or violent, they inherit an even stronger biological bias for kindness, compassion, cooperation, love and nurture—especially towards those in need—because an ethical sense is a biological feature of our species.... I can assure you as a student of children for 40 years, developmental psychology affirms the validity of that claim."
Jerome Kagan

Jerome Kagan has been a highly respected researcher and writer in psychology for decades.  Now an Emeritus Professor at Harvard, he has become a critic of many of psychology's assumptions and practices today.

So this claim--as boldly stated as a clarion call--is contrary to much if not most of the prevailing conventional wisdom on this basic question of human nature.  It's not even often that today's experts even admit that there is any inborn impetus to "kindness, compassion"etc. but that any such expressions are elaborate strategies by genes to insure their survival over the genes of others.

The best that many can say is that there are good qualities and bad qualities inborn, and it is up to individuals and societies to support making choices for the good, even if they are not obvious winners in the struggle for survival.

Which makes Kagan's assertion that the biological bias for the good is stronger a bold one.  Yet his standing as a scientist provides credibility, and so his view demands to be taken seriously.

It at least helps counter the idea that everybody who knows anything knows that kindness and cooperation are unnatural, and people who are committed to them are deluded.  Which suggests the work of building a better future is organic, not foolish, and once again, not hopeless.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Not Hopeless

  The news from Washington is nothing short of horrific, at a relentless pace.  News from places that Republican ideologues control--like the 17 states currently trying to pass new laws to stop protestors--isn't any better.  But all that isn't everything.  It isn't even most everything.  Even in a Dark Age there are areas of light.

Our Member of Congress, Jared Huffman, held a Town Hall meeting at Arcata High School a few days ago.  I didn't attend but I watched the entire video of the event, via Lost Coast Outpost.  Huffman is very smart, affable, courteous and witty.  In manner and appearance on the podium he reminds me of Kim Stanley Robinson.

After reflecting on what I saw, one impression that stays with me is that belief in misinformation isn't limited to the extreme right.  Among the estimated 1200 attendees were a lot of Bernie supporters (he handily won the primary in Humboldt) who were not very clear on what the Democratic National Committee can actually do, or actually did in Bernie's elections.  There are also a lot of stories prompting fears among immigrants.  Bad as things are, they aren't as bad (yet) as feared, and some of the stories just aren't true, according to Huffman.

For example, immigration agents aren't sweeping schools and hospitals looking for undocumented individuals, so people should not be keeping children home or avoiding healthcare.  There are some alarming instances in the news--such as the outrageous detaining of Muhammad Ali’s son at a Florida airport where he was questioned about his religion--but so far very little in general practice has changed, especially in California.

Similarly, Arcata and other cities are debating what to do about the threats made by Homegrown Hitler to stop federal funding to so-called "sanctuary cities."  Huffman said it is an empty threat--that it is unconstitutional to do so, and that the state of California in particular is ready to take the matter to court.  They've hired a lawyer for that, he said, the former US Attorney General Eric Holder.

Huffman was reassuring on other issues.  He doesn't believe Obamacare will be repealed, citing no less an authority than former R House Speaker John Boehner, who presided over an endless set of resolutions to do just that.  (And now, suddenly, Obamacare has visible political support.)

But his comments on the climate crisis were the most interesting.  While he doesn't dispute the obvious, that environmental protections and policies are being rapidly destroyed by the regime, he notes that there is enormous support for those policies built into the efforts of states and localities.

Huffman noted that almost 200 countries signed the Paris Agreement--which didn't simply state that they believed the climate crisis is real, but set detailed goals for addressing it that they pledged to meet.  Not only that, but some 700 non-state actors--cities, regions, companies and investors signed it right away, with more doing so since.   They include major cities, regions and corporations in the US.  They are still committed.  What the Washington regime does or doesn't do will likely not affect these efforts.  President Obama was instrumental in putting this together.  The current incumbent will not tear it apart.

For me this is another reminder that civilization is complex.  First of all, there are common decencies that people enact in their lives and work every day.  They may be under attack from political zealots, fueled by the darkness unleashed by fear, but these are long established behaviors part of institutional and personal identities.  They are resilient.

There is still hope when people represent what I regard as the most important phrase in common relationships: "You'd do the same for me."

Secondly, the demagoguery that moved enough votes to win an election did not as quickly destroy the regional, state, local, community and individual sense of reality and sense of values.  Even corporations cannot ignore reality for very long.

 The work goes on.  Success was never guaranteed, on the climate or anything else. The work is its own reward, as is life in community, life with integrity.  

Saturday, February 25, 2017

A Message From General Use

One day last week, Garrison Keillor's The Writer's Almanac page had this timely note:

The first mass inoculation of the Salk vaccine against polio began on this date in 1954, at the Arsenal Elementary School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The year before, there had been 35,000 reported cases of the highly contagious disease — and by 1962, after the vaccine came into general usage, there were 161.

In 1954 I was a schoolboy some thirty miles away from Arsenal Elementary, and we soon were lining up for the vaccine. We knew of children with the dreaded disease of polio, and saw photos of the iron lung. Dr. Salk was a hero to us.  So I've got no problem with highlighting his achievement.

What I have no use for however is that phrase "after the vaccine came into general usage."  In standard English usage as I learned it, that's a wrong use of usage, or it used to be.  Not only that, the phrase "in general use" is itself a standard description.

"Usage" used to be used almost exclusively for the standard or traditional way to use something--most familiarly, a language.  Now the misuse of "usage" is part of a trend of using extra syllables or words, especially as abstractions or passive-voice constructions, to give the impression that the user is pretty damn smart.  A similar example is using "closure" to mean "closing,"  as in a road closure.  As one language website puts it, "some people use the word 'usage' as though it were just a fancier form of the word 'use.'"  Such misuse demeans both words and impoverishes the language.

But usage these days is determined by how people use words at this moment. And once again we clot up the language and eventually change the standard, so that usage replaces use just because we get used to it.

It pains me that a website for writers misuses this word, especially captained by the plain spoken Garrison Keillor (who repeats this misuse in his audio portion.)
Of course, I still love the site.  I'm not one of those churlish users who cries, "I used to love his site but he's betrayed me! I've been used!" over one usage disagreement.  But I still hold out the possibly vain hope that this misuse of usage does not come into general use.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Deja Robo

One day early this week the phone rang.  I answered it.
"Hello," I said.  Nothing.  "Hello" I said again, noting that silence that usually means a robocall.

"Oh, hello!" said a female voice, sounding flustered, followed by a kind of giggle.  "Sorry about that, I had a problem with my headset."

Then she went into her spiel, though I've forgotten what it was for. I tried to interrupt but she kept going, so I said something like "No thanks" and hung up.

About three days later the phone rang.  I answered it.
"Hello," I said.  Nothing.  "Hello" I said again, noting that silence that usually means a robocall.

"Oh, hello!" said a female voice, sounding flustered, followed by a kind of giggle.  "Sorry about that, I had a problem with my headset."



Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Plausibility of Our Human World

“I had an epiphany once that I wish I could stimulate in everyone else. The plausibility of our human world, the fact that the buildings don’t all fall down and you can eat unpoisoned food that someone grew, is immediately palpable evidence of an ocean of good will and good behavior from almost everyone, living or dead. We are bathed in what can be called love.

And yet that love shows itself best through the constraints of civilization, because those constraints compensate for the flaws of human nature. We must see ourselves honestly, and engage ourselves realistically, in order to become better.”

 Jaron Lanier
 You Are Not a Gadget


Lanier (VR pioneer and big thinker about the digital realm) seems to subscribe to the T.H. Huxley view of human evolution: the human species obeyed the biological imperative by competing with--i.e. killing off--other species in its niche, but human civilization can evolve in the opposite manner, by societal and personal cooperation, ethics and, as he says, love.

In this way, people shape the kind of world they want to live in by their daily behavior, and by the behavior and commitments of the institutions that set expectations beyond their lives and lifetime.  That's the danger of shredding institutions with hate, greed and by people mindlessly letting their dark side rule.

I've had cause to interact recently with a number of people on the North Coast whose jobs are in health care.  Unfailingly they have been friendly, direct and competent.  These are the kind of people that are building the future, not the ego-mad monsters in Washington and on Wall Street.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Defining the Darkness.16

The next step in growing and consolidating power for a flailing and unpopular regime with an apprentice dictator is to start a war or react violently against a terrorist attack, probably also by starting a war.  The attack, according to some, is itself a present danger:

In terms of a major terrorist attack in the United States or on U.S. facilities, I think we’re significantly less ready than we were on January 19,” said Richard Clarke, who served on the National Security Council in the George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush administrations. “I think our readiness is extremely low and dangerously low. Certainly [government] agencies at a professional level will respond [to an attack], but having a coordinated interagency response is unlikely given the current cast of characters [in the administration] and their experience.”

"Clarke’s conclusion is based in part on the upheaval on the National Security Council," the Atlantic article goes on to say, but the regime's toxic relationship with American intelligence agencies, the US military and key foreign allies along with basic incompetence makes this both a more likely and very dangerous scenario.

As for terrorist organizations not totally ripped to shreds by the relentless dismantling conducted over the past eight years, the Washington regime's xenophobic and particularly anti-Muslim and anti-Arab rhetoric should help them rebuild with new recruits, eager to take advantage of the chaos fostered by the improv circus of the deluded in Washington.